Catcher Saul Garza is entering the Southeastern Conference tournament having more success at the plate than he has all season.
The LSU sophomore batted .636 (7 for 11) against Auburn last weekend, raising his average to its highest point in months. Garza’s performance continued a month-long stretch of improvement after he struggled for most of the season.
“I'm not trying to yank a homer every pitch,” Garza said. “I think that's helped a lot.”
Cole Henry, who’s 4-2 with a 3.26 ERA, will pitch for the first time since April 19 when LSU baseball begins the SEC tournament.
Coming into the season, Garza developed a reputation for batting practice bombs. He played as the designated hitter until late March because of a torn meniscus suffered during fall practice, but the power never came. His batting average tumbled toward .200.
“I felt like I was trying to do too much too soon,” Garza said.
When Garza started catching again, LSU thought he would hit better because he wouldn’t have to sit between at-bats. He still struggled for a while. He improved once he became the everyday catcher.
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"I was hoping once he started catching and he would see the pitches more frequently, maybe his pitch recognition would improve," coach Paul Mainieri said. "I think it's finally starting to happen for him."
Garza, who hit 23 home runs at Howard Junior College last year, made himself relax. He stopped pressing so much at the plate. He also received better pitches to hit as LSU’s nine-hole hitter. And when he stopped trying to hit home runs, the power came back.
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On April 18 against Florida, Garza homered for the first time this season. He has since hit four more home runs. He also raised his batting average from .188 last month to .257 going into the postseason.
“I think I've done a better job as of late trying to stay within myself, not hit a home run every pitch,” Garza said. “I'm seeing the ball better because I'm more relaxed and comfortable up there at the plate.”